Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easter Island/Santiago November 2012 - LAN Airlines 600 Economy Class (SCL-LIM)

***This post is part 9 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

This was an absolute mess of a flight. I've never had such a chaotic, stressful, and unprofessional experience at the airport. We took the Taxi Oficial back to Santiago International Airport and arrived approximately three hours prior to departure. Unfortunately, what we thought would be a quick and easy check-in process turned into a nightmare. Immediately, I noticed a single massive line for all United States-bound flights.

Two hour wait to check in your bag

Apparently there was a flight cancellation to New York (from what I could gather), and on top of that, their systems were also having problems. Worst of all, they only had three agents working our counters for the hundreds of people in line. The check-in line stretched to almost two hours long and, understandably, people began getting extremely upset. Each person who finally got up to the counter ended up just standing there and waiting for fifteen minutes or more as the agent would simply stare at the computer screen waiting for a response.

Three agents working a line of hundreds

LAN finally added three more agents as people were close to missing their flights and yelling began to erupt in line. One lady literally sat down on the ground in front of the counters in protest. Not surprisingly, the wait time didn't improve by much. When I finally reached the counter, the agent told me I had to wait for a seat assignment despite having previously reserved my seat online and having the printout to prove it.

The agent dismissively denied that I had a seat assignment. She proceeded to turn to the agent next to her and began chatting and giggling. Needless to say, I quickly understood why people were becoming infuriated. The gentleman beside me was in a similar situation. He was arguing with his agent, and then escalated it to a supervisor manning the stations. I voiced my concerns to the supervisor as well, and her immediate response was to tell me to step aside so the agent could help others. I refused, and the gentleman next to me told me emphatically, "don't move or they will brush you aside".

The argument between me and the supervisor became heated as I was suddenly told that I'd been put on standby for the flight despite having a confirmed seat and previous seating assignment. Fed up with the situation, I finally lost it and begin yelling at the supervisor and agent, while the gentleman beside me went off on them as well. Magically, less than five minutes later, a seat was found for me and my boarding pass was quickly printed out.

This was hands down the most frustrating check-in experience I've ever had. The level of unprofessionalism displayed by the LAN ground staff was unbelievable, as the agents simply did not care if we got on the flight. They appeared far more concerned with chatting with each other than trying their best to resolve any issues. The supervisor was arguably worse, abetting their behavior and brushing off customers.

Despite getting delayed in line for two hours, we finally got our bags checked in and made it through security. When we got to the gate, we were hit with another surprise: our flight had been delayed by almost an hour. Normally, that wouldn't be an issue, but since we were already faced with a tight connection in Lima, this only made matters worse. We were now left with less than 45 minutes to deplane, go through transfer security, and make a mad dash to the departure gate.

Since LAN 600 was technically a flight to the United States (despite the brief stop in Lima), there was a secondary security check at the gate, which delayed boarding even further. Luckily, I wasn't selected for the bag search, but my friend was. Finally, after a four hour ordeal at the airport, we boarded our flight to Lima.

Secondary security check line at the gate

LAN Airlines 600
Boeing 767-300ER
Santiago (SCL) - Lima (LIM)
Sunday November 11, 2012
Departure: 10:15 PM (scheduled) / 11:01 PM (actual)
Arrival: 12:01 AM (scheduled) / 12:24 AM (actual)
Duration: 3h 46m (scheduled) / 3h 23m (actual)
Seat: 22L (Economy)

Once seated, I was frankly too tired and worked up to take many pictures. All I could do was look at the time and wonder if we would make it for our connecting flight to San Francisco. I was sweating bullets the entire way.

The seats and layout were completely identical to the previous flights, although this was again the old configuration with the very slow AVOD system. I didn't even bother turning it on for this rather short hop. After queuing for what seemed like an eternity on the tarmac, we took off smoothly and left Santiago behind.

A quick meal service began shortly after take-off, and I selected the chicken dish. I have never been disappointed with the catering on LAN, and this also was no exception. While not particularly pleasing to the eye, the meal was hearty, filling, and quite delicious. Perhaps I've just grown accustomed to starving on domestic flights in the States, but I'm always amazed that foreign airlines still cater full meals on flights less than five hours long.

As I mentioned previously, LAN is definitely not known for exemplary service. But even with tempered expectations, I felt like the flight attendants were extra curt with passengers. Nary a smile could be found anywhere. I have a feeling it was probably due to them dealing with hundreds of angry and frustrated passengers that night.

Luckily, we made up some time while in the air, and we landed in Lima just about 20 minutes after the scheduled arrival time despite the long delay. Still, there were many passengers who were nervous about their tight connections, and people were up and out of their seats even before the seat belt lights were turned off. Once off the plane, we began our mad dash to the transfer security line along with dozens of other frantic passengers.

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